The American Billionaire Who Tried To Save Filipinos from American Imperialism

Jhemmylrut Teng
Andrew Carnegie(Source: Carnegie Mellon University)

When the United States won the Spanish-American War in the latter years of the 19th century, it purchased the Philippines from Spain for $20 million.

The U.S. wanted to annex the Philippines but Filipinos resisted. This resulted in another war - the Philippines-American War that lasted for two years.

However, the resistance was not only happening in the Philippines, as many Americans were also refused the government's decision to colonize. In fact, there was even an anti-imperialist group headed by prominent figures in the entire U.S.

One of them was American self-made billionaire, Andrew Carnegie. He didn't merely oppose American Imperialism, but also fought for Filipinos independence.

Self-made American Billionaire

Carnegie's story was just like any other immigrant who made it big in America. He was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835. His parents were weavers, so he learned how to weaved at an early age.

When he was 12, his father got out of work, and his mother became the breadwinner. The family had difficulty in making ends meet. His parents borrowed money from their family friend, George Lauder Sr., so that they can migrate to the United States, hoping for a greener pasture.

In 1848, the family settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Carnegie and his father both received a job offer in a cotton factory. The 12-year old Andrew became a bobby boy. He was changing spools of thread in a cotton mill for 12 hours a day, six days a week. His starting salary was $1.20 per week.

His father soon quit the job. But Carnegie was scouted by John Hay, a Scottish manufacturer of bobbins, who offered him a job for $2.00 per week. But the young boy finds this job more difficult and dangerous than the first as he had to operate a steam engine and fire the boiler in the cellar of the bobbin factory.

Railroad to success

By 1849, Carnegie started to work as a telegraph messenger boy. He was a hard worker and would memorize all of the locations of Pittsburgh's businesses and the faces of important men. He made tons of connections in this job. Within a year, he got promoted as an operator.

He soon started to self-educate himself by borrowing tons of books in the library opened by Colonel James Anderson. He learned economic and cultural development. When he was 18, Thomas A. Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company employed him as a secretary/telegraph operator at a salary of $4.00 per week.

Eventually, he became the superintendent in 1859. While in this post, he invested in the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company and introduced the first successful sleeping car on American railroads.

Carnegie began making shrewd investments in several industrial concerns such as the Keystone Bridge Company, the Superior Rail Mill and Blast Furnaces, the Union Iron Mills, and the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works. He also profitably invested in a Pennsylvania oilfield, and he took several trips to Europe, selling railroad securities. By the age of 30, he had an annual income of $50,000.

Because of his successes in the steelworks industry, in the 1870s, he built the Carnegie Steel Company, which later became a huge corporation until the early 20th century. Carnegie later sold his company to the United States Steel Corporation for $489,000,000 in 1901. His estimated net worth then was estimated at $310 billion. Apart from being an industrialist, Carnegie was also an influential philanthropist not just in America but also overseas.
Andrew Carnegie laying the foundation of the Carnegie Library(Source: National Library of Ireland)

Carnegie Versus American Imperialism

Before he sold his successful company, Carnegie and other prominent personalities in America, such as Mark Twain, William James, and George S. Boutwell formed the Anti-Imperialist League to oppose the U.S. government's plan to colonize the Philippines.

When the U.S. won the war against Spain, the U.S. government decided to take over some of Spain's former colonies: Guam in the Western Pacific and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. But for the Philippine Islands, the U.S. bought the nation from the Spanish Crown for $20 million during the Treaty of Paris.

According to the U.S. State Department's Office of the Historian, it stated that the State's policymakers' decision to annex the Philippines triggered by several reseasons: desire for commercial opportunities in Asia; concern that Filipinos were incapable of self-rule; and lastly, Germany or Japan might colonize the Philipines.

Those who favored colonizing the Philippines argued that getting the Philipines created a strategic position for the U.S. both in economic trade and defense security.

In August 1898, Carnegie scrutinized the colonization of the Philippines in his article published in North American Review. Here, he stated his arguments one-by-one, emphasizing that America's acquisition of the Philippines would not only an additional expense for the American people but also morally wrong.

"Shall we attempt to establish ourselves as a power in the far East and possess the Philippines for glory?... The Philippines have about seven and a half millions of people, composed of races bitterly hostile to one another, alien races, ignorant of our language and institutions. Americans cannot be grown there. The islands have been exploited for the benefit of Spain, against whom they have twice rebelled, like the Cubans. But even Spain has received little pecuniary benefit from them. The estimated revenue of the Philippines in 1894-95 was £2,715,980, the expenditure being £2,656,026, leaving a net result of about $300,000... if we take the Philippines, we shall be forced to govern them as generously as Britain governs her dependencies, which means that they will yield us nothing, and probably be a source of annual expense. Certainly they will be a grievous drain upon revenue if we consider the enormous army and navy which we shall be forced to maintain upon thei

Carnegie also pointed out that the government was unfair in giving Cubans their independence, but not with Filipinos.

"Why should the less than two millions of Cuba receive national existence and the seven and a half millions of the Philippines be denied it? The United States, thus far in their history, have no page reciting self-sacrifice made for others; all their gains have been for themselves."

When the U.S. finally purchased the Philippines from Spain, Carnegie did a counteroffer; the New York Times 1898 edition reported that he offered to donate $20 million to the government if McKinley and Congress gave back Filipinos independence. However, his offer was undermined by the administration.

Carnegie and the Anti-Imperialist League continued their protest against the annexation.
The Evening Bulletin, 1898(Source: Library of Congress)
Danger of Imperialism, article in The Evening Bulletin, 1898(Source: Library of Congress)

Carnegie even wrote to President William McKinley that Filipinos and Americans would inevitably start "killing each other if the colonization would push through." Carnegie was right, after the Paris' treaty, Filipinos turned their weapons against the American soldiers, and the Philippine-American war broke out.

The U.S. had spent millions of dollars by sending more troops to the Philippines. And the Anti-Imperialist League had been questioning McKinley's actions. However, McKinley justified the war to the American people by depicting the scenario in the Philippines as a form of insurgency, that the Filipinos were ungrateful to their "rescuers."

Carnegie consistently juxtaposed McKinley's press releases:
McKinley on McKinleynism, article in The Hocking Sentinel, March 2, 1899(Source: Library of Congress)

Despite the opposition, McKinley pursued the invasion and sent more troops to the Philippines. He also released the Benevolent Assimilation policy to the Filipinos, which deemed to "civilized" and "Americanized" the locals.

However, during the war, thousands of Filipinos died as they didn't have high-caliber weapons compared to what American soldiers had.

Accordingly, Carnegie "sarcastically" wrote a letter to his friend working in McKinley's administration:

“You seem to have about finished your work of civilizing the Filipino; it is thought that about 8,000 of them have been completely civilized and sent to heaven; I hope you like it.”

The Americans won the war in 1902, and Filipinos lost over 250,000 lives. In that same year, the United States officially annexed the Philippines.

Despite such a reality, Carnegie continued to be the vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League and its generous finance supporter. He was also a member of the Philippine Independence Committee (1904) and the vice-president of the Filipino Progress Association (1905-1907). Carnegie fought for Filipinos independence until his death in 1919.

As history moved on, Carnegie's efforts did not put to waste. He may not have witnessed it, but the United States eventually granted Filipinos independence in 1946 after the Second World War.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.


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